UNION TWP. — On its run to Saturday's Class A state championship game, Wheeler has left no doubt.
The 21-0 Bearcats hold a goal differential of 136 to 11. Two contributors to that success have been the holding midfielder duo of sophomore Riley O'Brien and freshman Gia Diaz.
"When you think about it, those two are the transition between our offensive and defensive game," coach Bryan Murray said. "We have a good back line and obviously some people that can go forward, and they understand when to support the attack but also when to support the defense in transition the other direction. They're both very aggressive kids."
Better yet, the duo has learned to play off of each other.
"When we've had big leads, they've learned to play more defensive and get behind the ball and at other times, they can sense when they can go forward," Murray said. "Their feel for the game based on what the team needs has improved all year and they're making better decisions on a more consistent basis as we have went through the tournament."
Their complementary talent was prevalent in the 2-0 semistate win over Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian.
"A lot of lights went off for them and that's repetitions together for good soccer players that have different strengths," Murray said. "With Blackhawk, we dealt with (Courtney) McKown who had 30 goals, and Gia and Riley did a great job of second-defending on the play with her on the transition."
O'Brien is a second-year starter at the holding mid spot after playing center-back in club.
"Her skill set is too good to be stuck back there," Murray said. "Moving her up really helped us organize our attack going forward. Her vision allows our play-makers to get the angles they want. She distributes and she sees well going forward, too.
"She's a very good defensive midfielder and she definitely improved last year and even more this year. The move wasn't an adjustment for her, she's just a soccer player."
More defensive-minded, O'Brien has two goals and four assists.
"I feel like I'm pretty balanced. I think I definitely help defend more because naturally having been a defender, I feel the urge to get the ball out of there," O'Brien said. "In a close game, I'll stay back a little bit more and Gia will go forward.
"I'm playing more through balls and going up a little bit more. It's a lot of distributing. When I get the ball, I find the forwards and play them balls they can score off of. It's an important position because we're in the middle of everything and we always have to know where the ball is."
Diaz is more offensive-minded, with nine goals and seven assists.
"She has a really good, strong competitive mindset and she has a very seasoned, tough game for only being a freshman," Murray said. "She'll press her space and is more willing to move herself from a true holding situation to be a part of the attack."
It's become second nature for the duo to know where each other are.
"Teams don't have enough girls in the middle to guard both of us, so sometimes there's a gap and that's when Riley and I will talk to each other on who goes up and stays back," Diaz said. "We have really great chemistry and we're always talking before/during games, at halftime, on what we can improve on. We were getting used to each other at first and it took some time, but now we always know where we're at."
During games, they'll talk to see who is marking who and depending on what side the player is on, they'll switch.
"If Riley goes up, I stay back," Diaz said. "And sometimes we just have to make sure each other knows we're moving, but most of the time we already know."
O'Brien also gives the duo an "A" grade on their chemistry.
"You definitely need to understand who you're playing with and where they're going to be," she said. "I always know she'll be right next to me when I need to play her the ball."
The Bearcats roster of 18 features four seniors.
"Not only those two, but collectively, it's been impressive to see how they've gelled and how unselfish they've been," Murray said. "There's a lot of strong personalities on this team and their unselfishness and willingness to compete and do the work for each other is why we're going to Indianapolis."
Both players can't wait.
"I'm so excited and win or lose, I think we've made history at Wheeler. I'm so proud of everyone on our team," Diaz said.
Wheeler faces Evansville Mater Dei at 9:30 a.m. at IUPUI.
"I think it's crazy being able to get to this game," O'Brien said. "Growing up here, you never really think it's going to happen to you and now it is. To be the first Wheeler team to play for a soccer state title is crazy."